Suzanne Remien was the only one foolish enough to attempt a one-way trip with five peaks in three days, and the monsoon weather scared off the day hikers which we were to have joined on the first day. With the day hikers went our car shuttle, killing the loop which might have allowed us time to do Royce and Merriam. What the hell, we "girded up our loins" and went anyway!
Friday we packed from Mosquito Flat to the saddle north of Bear Creek Spire under skies that were cloudy, then clear, then cloudy again. Not a good start, but it was clear at the saddle. The snow is continuous from Dade Lake, and early morning or late evening would require crampons near the top. We "stormed" up Ulrichs' Route, which is mostly class 2, racing the darkening clouds. A few bits of class 3 lead to the squeeze chimney (a total body experience) and we were on the summit ridge... where we could finally see how bad the clouds were to the southwest. Very bad. We hunted down the east ridge and found a 30 foot notch that looked safe from lightning ground currents just as the hail started falling. It was a nasty half hour of wind, small hail, and countless lightning strikes. Some of the hits were less than a second (e.g. 1000 feet) between flash and boom, and the rocks above us on the ridge were buzzing in between. It cleared, we summited, but the temperature felt more like October than August.
Saturday we dayhiked from our camp at Toe Lake to the outlet of Lake Italy, up past White Bear Lake, down past Vee Lake, and climbed Seven Gables. It's a long day, but the cross country terrain is fantastic. Do be careful not to scoop tadpoles into your water bottle! There were some clouds, but and a few snowflakes near the summit, but no serious storm. Secor insists the south summit of Seven Gables is taller, but that's got to be a typo. (I'm sure he knows that, because he placed the current register last month.) The north peak is unquestionably taller, and the entire bowl between the west and north ridges is class 2. The summit, however, is low class 3 with a fatally exposed summit boulder that you can clearly see from miles away. Both the north and west ridge routes are "2S3" - class 2 for most of the route, and a common class 3 summit approach.
Sunday we really wanted to just hike out, but Julius Caesar loomed above camp at Toe Lake and the day promised to be cloudless. Each night we heard several rockfalls on the north face of JC and the bump to its west, and there was a band of icy snow blocking the saddle between. (Saturday night we were awakened by a tympani symphony of rockfall that lasted long enough to wake up, talk about it, unzip the tent, locate the direction in the dark, and return to the tent still listening to the rumble.) We decided to go around. Secor mentions a "class 2 slope" that goes south from the cirque northeast of JC to the crest. There are several chutes, but nothing that looks like an open slope. The first chute leaves from the lake outlet, appears to be blocked by a cliff at the top (at least in early morning light), and it heads southwest instead of south. Further into the cirque is another chute, narrower and not as tall, which is loose class 2 to a nice saddle. The other side of that saddle, however, is not nice. We saw no way to stay on the ridge, and traversing in class 3 lead us to cliffs before and below.
Fortunately there was one long chute cleaving the cliffs, and a 25' rappel got us into talus which lead down, around, and up the southeast bowl (above Chalfant Lake). This route is not mentioned by Secor, but is class 2 to the summit. The east ridge of JC (south of the cirque) looks unclimbable without a rope from both sides and from above. Perhaps there is a sneak route we missed - anyone been there? We returned via Italy Pass and Jumble Lake, fortifying Suzanne's sore knee with multiple doses of Motrin.
The pack out was more or less uneventful. OK, less. By the time we reached the pass north of BCS, the snow had iced up and a belay was required for the first 200' at around a 35 degree slope. Should have had those crampons! Just as we unroped, another pair of climbers showed up in the pass, and were still there when we dropped out of sight toward Dade Lake. They had climbing helmets, and appeared to be spending a lot of time setting a rappel with a full length climbing rope. Hope they made it! We reached the trail well after dark, and the cars around 11pm.
Photo of Bear Creek Spire - Cox Col
Photo of Bear Creek Spire Summit